The owner of a Youngstown, OH-based fracking company has pleaded guilty to ordering an employee to dump tens of thousands of gallons of fracking wastewater into the Mahoning River tributary. The owner will be sentenced on June 16.

“The one refreshing thing about this particular case is that the offending party came forth and admitted wrongdoing, which is more than can be said of larger energy companies like BP or Exxon,” said Emmie Paulos, BP litigation attorney with Levin, Papantonio P.A. “The facts are in and now justice can be served.”

Benedict Lupo of Poland, OH, who owns Hardrock Excavating LLC, is facing three years in prison along with paying $3 million worth of restitution and $1 million in fines, should he be convicted of violating the Clean Water Act. The investigation, which led to the charges, were brought forth after authorities found brine and drilling mud being dumped into a storm sewer.

“Those who make it their business to harvest from under Ohio[,] its great natural resources, have a responsibility to the men, women, and children who drink its water, live on its land, and breathe its air,” said U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach. “And they have a duty to follow the law.”

Michael Guesman, Lupo’s co-defendant, was sentenced to three years probation and 300 hours of community service for his role in the illegal dumping of toxic fracking chemicals. The illegal dumping operation took place from Nov. 2012 to Jan. 2013. Investigators discovered benzene and toluene, two of the most toxic chemicals used in the fracking process, in the brine and drilling mud found in the river.  

Lupo’s facility has about 58 mobile storage tanks, each with a 20,000-gallon storage capacity. In a shady action, Lupo instructed Guesman to dump the waste into the tributary by running a hose from the storage tanks containing wastewater to a stormwater drain. The operation was carried out under the cover of night after everyone had left the facility for the day.

Guesman said that he carried out Lupo’s order out of fear of losing his job, but ended up getting laid off anyway after Hardrock went out of business and terminated most of its employees. Lupo had another company loosely connected to Hardrock called D&L Energy that filed for bankruptcy protection last year after the company paid $1 million because Lupo was linked to the illegal dumping.

“Lupo put his own business interests ahead of the health and safety of our citizens, natural resources and wildlife by repeatedly releasing or ordering the release of his company’s brine waste into the Mahoning River,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine. “He will now be held accountable for this terrible crime.”

Joshua de Leon is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.